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Determining When Firing is Unavoidable

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Mel Kleiman, founder and president of Humetrics, an HR consulting company that finds and hires hourly employees, says there are two questions you need answered about a potential employee in the hiring process, and re-evaluated as necessary. 

“The first question is, ‘Is the job right for the person?’” Kleiman says. “And the second question is, ‘Is the person right for the job?’”

If you can answer those questions with a resounding “yes,” a future firing is unlikely. However, if there’s a disconnect between the employee and the role they fill, you’re headed for troubled waters.

“When you make a hiring mistake, learn to fail fast,” Kleiman says. “The faster you fail, the less it’ll cost you.”

Employers make mistakes, and sometimes the wrong person ends up in the wrong place, and the two simply can’t fit together. 

Kleiman has five questions employers should ask themselves when they’re determining whether it’s time to part ways with a less-than-stellar employee. 

These tips will help you determine if there’s still something to salvage, or if it’s time to sever ties. 

As told to Courtney Welu

No. 1: Can the employee do the job, and if they can, will they?

There are three things to consider when deciding whether an employee is a good fit for their job: Are they capable of doing the job? Will they do the job equal to or above your expectations? Can you live with them?

Ideally, we want to answer these three particular questions in the hiring process. If we can do that to everyone’s comfort levels, odds are we won’t reach the point of no return. 

Normally, when we end up terminating employees, it’s not because they can’t do the job—it’s because they won’t. Skill set or an inability to do the work is rarely going to be your problem. Employers are good at identifying people’s skills. They’re not as good at figuring out if their employees are going to put in the necessary work, or be easy to work with. 

No. 2: Is the root of the problem your responsibility or theirs?

When an employee doesn’t live up to your expectations, you have to ask what the reasoning behind the problem is and if it’s your responsibility as their employer to fix it. Sometimes, with guidance, they can recover, but other times they’re creating the problem for themselves.

Employees also have questions they need answered when they’re hired: Will the boss like me? How hard is the job? How will I be graded? What are the rules? Will I have friends there?

If you’ve provided clear answers for these questions, odds are they’re going to be successful. If they’re still struggling, that means that the problem likely didn’t come from you. 

No. 3: Have you made your expectations clear?   

The key to retaining employees is laying out clear expectations, in the hiring process and beyond. We need to create a culture of accountability, because if we don’t, people don’t know what success for them looks like. Have you told your employees exactly what you require from them?

If you’ve told your employees what you expect, then you’ll have no problem telling them when they’re not meeting those expectations, and that anything less is unacceptable. 

If you’ve laid this out and they’re still not doing their job correctly, you need to practice catch and release, and let them go. 

No. 4: Can your employee see what their future holds?

A struggling employee should realize what to expect if they don’t make changes. You should never have to fire anybody; they should fire themselves. 

One thing you could try is to tell them to take a day off and come back on Monday. Tell them they need to decide whether or not they’re going to live up to expectations or if they think it’s time to move on. 

Don’t just make your expectations clear; make clear what the result will be if those expectations aren’t met. 

No. 5: Are you setting a bad example for the rest of your staff?

When you keep a subpar employee, you’re sending a clear message to the rest of your staff that your standards for performance aren’t high. 

The lowest level of expectations you’re willing to accept tells every other employee exactly how bad they can be and still keep their job. You’re telling them that they can work at a low level and stay employed. 

That’s not a good message to send to your organization. Don’t procrastinate getting rid of a bad employee; the best time to fire someone is the first time you decide to do it. 

Don’t worry too much about how your other employees will react. They know who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t. They’ll probably just ask one thing: What took you so long?

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